Witchcraft

Witchcraft

Witchcraft

Witchcraft

Synopsis

Descendant of Susanna Martin, who was hanged as a witch because she walked into Salem in the rain without getting her feet wet, Hoyt describes his book as a "guide, a text, to help students… find the way to the right questions, through an enormous mass of complex, contradictory, and emotionally charged material." Confusion exists even in so basic a text as the injunction found in the King James translation of Exodus that "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Hoyt argues persuasively that this charge to the faithful, which "has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands," is an error in translating the word kashaph as witch rather than poisoner, as the author of Exodus intended.

Dealing further with the scriptural derivation for the bases of witchcraft, Hoyt shows that it was only with the New Testament's personification of Satan that witchcraft was supplied with the "personalized principle of evil" it required to prosper. He discusses the pantheon of hell, including the fiends Beelzebub, Mephistopheles, Asmodeus, Apollyon, and Belial. He concludes his historical analysis with a discussion of the witch queen Hecate, Circe the enchantress, and Medea.

Hoyt has identified seven schools of witchcraft, including the orthodox, the skeptics, the anthropological, the psychological, the pharmacological, the transcendental, and the occult. His perceptive classification of these schools greatly assists the student of witchcraft through the associations they combine and suggest.

Utilizing citations from witch trials, Hoyt is able to illustrate many of his arguments concerning the practice of witchcraft and beliefs concerning witches. Such records also provide stark evidence of the justice afforded those thought to be witches. Peter Stubbe, for example, was executed for lycanthropy by having his flesh ripped from his bones with red-hot pincers, his arms and legs broken, and finally his "head strook from his body."

Excerpt

In witchcraft studies, as in other areas of scholarly investigation, the questions are sometimes more important than the answers. This book is intended as a guide, a text, to help students, either those formally enrolled in a course, or those who have approached this fascinating subject on their own, find the way to the right questions, through an enormous mass of complex, contradictory and emotionally-charged material. "Witch" has been, and in some places still is, a term of opprobrium reserved for the most contemptible of the human race; on the other hand in our own time it often identifies a member of a small group of enlightened nature- worshipers who practice nudism, vegetarianism, and the dance. What is the relationship of these concepts to each other? Were the victims of the sixteenth and seventeenth-century mass executions members of harmless eccentric cults? Were they members of anything at all: was there in fact at any time prior to the twentieth century any truly organized body of witches? These central questions, with many other peripheral ones, are being debated today.

The problem will not be in finding answers, but in judging between them. In my opening chapter I distinguish between no less than seven schools of witchcraft belief. Each of these schools has its answers ready, and the student will find them totally irreconcilable. What this book hopes to do, is first to present these arguments in summary, with such comments as my own and other recent studies make pertinent, and then to direct the student to the sources for these arguments, the data upon which they are founded, so that after further reading he may judge between them on his own. This book then does not pretend to be an exhaustive treatment of any aspect of this area, but a guide which if used conscientiously will . . .

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